WASHINGTON – Maryland’s U.S. senators voted Tuesday to back the use of U.S. military force in Kosovo, saying this country has a responsibility to act in an effort to stop the “brutal” situation there.
The vote came 12 days after the House voted to back U.S. intervention in the region, a resolution supported by six of the state’s eight House members, although some said that vote required a bit of “soul searching.”
The Senate voted 58-41 for a resolution authorizing President Clinton to conduct airstrikes in Kosovo in coordination with NATO forces. Maryland Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, both Baltimore Democrats, supported the resolution.
The Senate vote followed a day in which negotiations between U.S. officials and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic broke down, and NATO ordered airstrikes against Milosevic’s forces.
“President Milosevic and his forces have been brutal to men, women and children in Kosovo and this brutality has only intensified in the past few days,” Sarbanes said in a prepared statement. “The United States must carry out its role in NATO.”
The Senate resolution replaced an earlier proposal that would have denied funding for any U.S. military action in the region that did not have prior congressional approval. That motion was withdrawn by its sponsor, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who said “time has bypassed this amendment,” but who nonetheless opposed the use of U.S. force without congressional approval.
That same concern prompted Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, to vote against a House resolution on March 11 supporting the administration plan to deploy U.S. troops to Kosovo as part of a NATO force. Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R- Timonium, was the only other Maryland House member to vote against the resolution, which passed the House with one vote to spare, 219-191.
Sending troops to Kosovo would be an “act of war” reserved under the Constitution to Congress alone, Bartlett said Tuesday. He called the Balkans a “tinderbox,” and said that the United States needs to use caution in the region.
“(Clinton) needs to come to Congress and make that point and we need to have a debate,” before using forces, he said.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, agreed Tuesday that the United States must weigh its desire to stop Serb aggression against respect for that country’s sovereignty.
But Gilchrest said that after “a lot of soul searching,” he decided to support U.S. deployment to Kosovo. He was one of two Maryland Republicans to join the state’s Democrats in support of the resolution.
“We have got to get in there and stop the genocide,” Gilchrest said. “If it is necessary to use force via airstrikes, the president ought to do it sooner better than later.”
He said he did not absolutely trust Clinton but that, after consulting with military and State Department experts, he was convinced that the time for action was at hand.
The Yugoslavian Army began an offensive over the weekend into the southern province of Kosovo, which enjoyed autonomous rule from 1974 until 1989, when that autonomy was taken away by Milosevic. Kosovo is inhabited by a majority of ethnic Albanians, but houses several shrines important to Serbs of northern Yugoslavia.
Bartlett questioned American responsibility in the region, noting that there are currently more than 40 civil wars around the globe, replete with massacres and atrocities.
“This is not our backyard and if this was happening in America, do you think (the European nations) would be so willing to intervene?” he said.
“War crimes are being committed and we need to do whatever we can to bring them to justice,” Bartlett said of Serb aggression in Kosovo. “But we need to be careful.”